Jesus is our great high priest. His priesthood, his intercessory ministry, is permanent. He is the once-for-all sacrifice for sins. Jesus lives forever. He saves completely. Jesus meets our need. He has been made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:23-28). Say any of those statements in the typical church and hardly an eyebrow would get raised – they almost seem ho-hum. Our blank affect testifies that we have lost a great deal of the original force and extreme impact of Christianity.
In the first century, it was a radical idea to have one sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Every ancient person understood that sacrifices were only temporary; you had to keep offering them over and over again. Christianity, however, asked the world to have a new understanding of sacrifice. No longer would there be any sacrifice – no grain sacrifice; no offerings of first-fruits; no animal sacrifices; no sacrifices, period. There was no longer any need for them because Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice to end all sacrifices. This was such a crazy and ridiculous notion for so many people that they mocked Christians for it. Both Jews and pagans could barely wrap their minds around such a liberal progressive idea. It would be like saying to us today that there is no longer any need for money because somebody just became the underwriter for everything everybody does.
Yet, we in the modern church sometimes go back to the old kind of sacrificial system, not by physically offering animal sacrifices, but treating Christ’s once-for-all finished work as if it were just too good to be true. We reason that we need to do something to help save ourselves. However, Jesus has not just saved us partially, but fully. Our church attendance can subtly be looked upon as a sacrifice to appease God, as if he needed to be soothed into not becoming angry at us. Our giving can become some non-bloody sacrifice that is meant to satisfy God’s furrowed brow against us. Our service can degenerate into a sacrifice to assuage our guilty conscience. In all these kinds of instances, it is going back to an old sacrificial system that is obsolete.
The biblical and theological truth is that Jesus has thoroughly saved us from our sin, and, so, has cleansed us from all guilt, including a guilty conscience. Jesus meets our need and has completely satisfied God’s wrath against sin. Jesus is our mediator and intercedes for us as we come to God’s throne of grace. That means we do not need to try and get God’s attention with performing spiritual cartwheels or some incredible sacrifice that will somehow obligate him to take notice. The truth is that there is never a time in which we lack attention from God.
Since we have been justified by faith in Jesus, we need not worry anymore about being good enough. Since Jesus is perfect, his work is made complete in us. This constant anxiety of feeling like we don’t measure-up does not come from God. Jesus is sufficient and has taken our place so that we can live in the freedom and joy of a complete deliverance from sin, death, and hell. There is no longer any necessary sacrifice to make!
“Well,” you might say, “if everybody in the church believed that then nobody would ever do anything.” No, it is just the opposite. When we feel like we don’t measure up, we do less, not more. A low level discouragement sets in and we do nothing because we intuitively know it will never be enough. We do just enough to squeak by, never quite knowing if it is doing anything. We consider giving up because Christianity doesn’t work for us. But when we grasp the New Covenant of Christ’s sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and are overwhelmed by grace, then everything we do in the Christian life is a simple desire to say “thank you” with our life and our lips. It is a joyous offering ourselves, body, soul, and spirit. It is the grace, and not the wrath, of God that teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and godly lives (Titus 2:11-12).
On this upcoming Reformation Sunday we celebrate the glorious reality that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by our own accomplishments, pedigree, or effort. Trusting in our heritage, relying on our family’s faith, or believing our hard work gives us a leg-up toward heaven will only end in despair. But if we trust in Christ’s perfect sacrifice then a whole new world of mercy and grace opens before us. Soli Deo Gloria!